Saturday, March 6, 2010


Why do I keep thinking about silence--a word we can know nothing about, or know only as we know death: as metaphor, surmise, the nothingness that frames the span of our life, the before and after beyond experience, experience that is always filled with signs, signs that may not speak but are never silent. I think of the silence of the woman pouring milk. It is hers, in that room before that window, in the light that caresses her, in the shadows that surround her, but it is not ours. Vermeer doesn't give us silence. He reminds us of the presence of something we cannot know. The silence is in the painting, not in us; we know it only as an absence that draws us out of ourselves, like the silence that frames the lines of a poem. We read the words, read to the end of the line, to the end of the poem and encounter there that same absence. We call it silence, but the silence is on the page, in the white spaces between the words, it is not in us. It is never ours. Never. We say that we have come from silence, as we will return to silence. But our saying this is an admission that between birth and death there is no silence. Not for single second. Look into the eyes of an animal and you will see it--the impenetrable silence we are not permitted to enter, and if we were, if we could (perhaps again, as in dreamless sleep) we would emerge (again) with no trace, no memory of where we had been, no knowledge that we had been there. Is it possible, then, that we do enter into this silence, which we neither experience, nor know nor remember; is silence the dark matter of our being--dark energy that does not interact, or only weakly with our voluble lives? We are left always with this intimation that there is something more, but we can never know or name what lies beyond it. How many times have I fallen through without knowing, into the silence, losing everything? Erased from the lives of others. Not even alone. Remembering nothing...  


  1. I do hate to keep flogging Nicholson Baker's dead on arrival horse, but...Mr. B., It's not about rests, some little musical trick you clevered up into a sound bite. There is no rest because there is no silence. You have to sound out the pre-condition of the condition. That's what Jacob Russell can do that you cannot do. Because if you could, you would.

  2. A clever Marxist drosh, Citizen M. The precondition for believing in the possibility of silence is the belief that it is possible to define or definitively describe our or any historical condition, thus making it possible to come to an end, a pause, a silence between, before taking up the next question--when the reality is that there is always a condition for the condition, and belief in silence is nothing less than blindness to that reality--that nothing can be definitively described in itself because all is in motion and ever changing... Marx and Hieraclitus were in cahoots!

  3. That was an extract from my unfinished novel. My aesthetics, the kind of prose I'm drawn to, my grasp of the subject, all have changed so much since I began this in 2001 that I despair of ever writing it to an end.